Baudelaire: Two letters of despair
Mis à jour : févr. 18
Charles Baudelaire, Letter to Narcisse Ancelle ; 30 june 1845
To Narcisse Ancelle, 30 June 1845
"By the time Mlle Jeanne Lemer gives you this letter I'll be dead. (...) I am killing myself without any sense of sorrow. I feel none of the agitation that men call sorrow. My debts have never been a cause of sorrow. It’s perfectly simple to rise above such matters. I’m killing myself because I can no longer go on living, because the weariness of falling asleep and the weariness of waking up have become unbearable to me. I’m killing myself because I believe I’m of no use to others – and because I’m a danger to myself. I’m killing myself because I believe I’m immortal and because I hope.
At the time of writing these lines I am so lucid that I’m still copying out a few notes
for M. Théodore de Banville and have the necessary strength to busy myself with my manuscripts. I give and bestow all I possess to Mlle Lemer, including my little stock of furniture and my portrait – because she’s the only creature who offers me solace. Can anyone blame me for wanting to repay her for the rare pleasures I’ve enjoyed in this horrendous world ?
I do not know my brother very well – he has neither lived in me nor with me – he has no need of me. My mother, who has so frequently and always unwittingly poisoned my life, has no need of money either. – She has her husband ; she has a human being, some one who provides her with affection and friendship.
I have no one but Jeanne Lemer. It’s only in her that I’ve found rest and I will not, can not bear the thought that people want to strip her of what I’m giving her, on the pretext that my mind is wandering. You’ve heard me talking to you these last few days. Was I mad ?
To Caroline Aupick, 31 December 1863
My Dear Mother,
"There's nothing worse than having to write to one's mother with one eye glued to the clock, but I want you to receive this tomorrow – a few words of affection and a few promises, which you can believe or not.
I've acquired the detestable habit of putting off until the morrow all my duties, even the most pleasant of them. That's how I've come to put off until the morrow the many important things over so many years and that's why I'm in such a ridiculous position today, a position that is both painful and ridiculous, notwithstanding my name and my age. The solemnity if the end of a year has never struck me with such intensity as it does this year.
So, despite the massive abbreviations of my thought that I'm committing here, you'll understand me perfectly when I tell you that I beg you to stay in good health, look after yourself well, live as long as you can, and grant me your indulgence a little longer.
All I’m going to do or all I hope to do this year, I should and could have done in the year just passed. But I’m attacked by a frightful illness, which has never played such havoc with me as in this year – I mean my reveries, my depression, my discouragement, my indecision.
Truly, I consider the man who succeeds in healing himself of a vice as infinitely braver than a soldier or a man who defends his honor in a duel. But how to heal myself ? How transform despair into hope, weakness into willpower ? Is this illness imaginary or real ? Has it become real after being imaginary ? Could it be the result of a physical weakness, or an incurable melancholy resulting from so many stormy years, years spent without consolation, in solitude and wretchedness ?
I’ve no idea, but what I do know is that I feel utterly disgusted with everything and
particularly with all kinds of pleasure (that’s no bad thing), and that the only feeling that convinces me I’m still alive is a vague desire for celebrity, vengeance, and fortune. But even the little I have done have met with so little justice. I've found a few people that have had the courage to read Eureka. The book will sell badly but I should have anticipated that: it's too abstract for the French. (...)"